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Limelight Dodge: the Jack-Knife Funny Car

Limelight Dodge funny car on the return road at Detroit Dragway

The Limelight Dodge funny car on the return road at Detroit Dragway in 1967 | 126 Instamatic image by Tom Bonner

One of my favorite images from Detroit’s Dragway’s Midwest Championships is this shot of Bill McKessson’s Limelight Dodge Charger funny car.

I’ve discussed Steve McKesson’s Mustang funny car at length in earlier posts. In 1965-66, brothers Bill and Steve McKesson campaigned an altered wheelbase Plymouth Fury funny car. It was typical of the early A/FX funny cars, with a steel body, altered wheelbase and an injected 426 Hemi. For 1967, the brothers split up. Steve built a flip-top Mustang, while Bill remained with Mopar and assembled the radical Dodge Charger funny car you see here.

The car was state of the art, with a full Logghe chassis and a injected, nitro-burning Hemi. I call it a jack-knife funny car, because of the way the body opened. The front clip tilted forward, gasser style. There is nothing very unusual about that; many early funny cars featured tilt front-ends. The rest of the car’s body however, was hinged at the rear and could be titlted up like a flopper. So when both front clip and the main body were titlted upward, the car opened up like a jack-knife.

To make things more interesting, the car had opening doors, which made quite a sight when the body was up, the front end was titled forward and both doors were wide open. I don’t remember seeing another funny car built in this fashion.

I have found several references to this car, including the usually reliable DragList, which claim the body of the Limelight was fiberglass. I’m sceptical about that, for two reasons.

First, when the body was opened up, it retained most of the attributes of a factory Charger, including openings for the heater core, the typical slots in the cowl and factory door hinges. Sure, all of these things could have been reproduced in ‘glass, but why bother?

The second reason I doubt the body shell is fiberglass is this photo. A fiberglass body built for racing wouldn’t lend itself as a perch for the driver while being towed down the return road. At the very least, the weight of an adult male would cause stress cracks. If any chuck holes caused the car to jounce up and down, I would expect a glass body to rip from the driver’s weight. The front clip, trunk lid and doors might have been ‘glass, but I suspect the body shell was original Chrysler steel.

Which brings me to the subject of the driver himself. There is some discrepancy over who was driving the Limelight in April 1967.

The Limelight was at the Detroit Autorama in January 1967. According to placards on the car, the driver was Del Hienelt, who I discussed at length in the Steve McKesson post.

The Drag News report on the Midwest Championships seems to imply that Bill McKesson himself was at the wheel of the Limelight that Sunday at Detroit Dragway. Ordinarily, I would trust the Drag News article, but many of the drivers of other cars at the event we’re not identified, leading me to conclude that the writer didn’t do much research into who was driving what.

As for me an my friends, we believed Hienelt was driving that day. I now know the Hienelt was driving for Larry Coleman by August of 1967, so he had to have left the Limelight’s driving seat sometime between January and August. Can anyone identify the driver in the photo? Is Hienelt? Bill McKesson? Or could McKesson have hired another driver after Hienelt left?

Bonus points if you can identify the person with the big hair steering the car on the return road.

I must have been near the top end when I snapped this photo, judging by the cars in the pit area across the track, The pit road bleachers have ended, and the cars assembled against the fence look like street driven vehicles. The street cars typically pitted near the top end, while the all-out race cars usually clustered behind the stands near the starting line.

One final question. What happened to Bill McKesson and the Limelight Dodge? I don’t find any references to either the man or the car after 1967. If you know something, leave a comment below.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Daryl Huffman
    Posted September 5, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Bill McKesson drove this one Tom. Limelight did not have a Logghe chassis. Have to find the ole magazine it was in . Don`t remember what kind. Half the body survives in Mo.

  2. JOHN MOLNAR,
    Posted November 11, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    BILL MCKESSON IS SITTING ON THE REAR BODY OF THE CAR AND HIS WIFE PETIEBIS AT THE CONTROLS AS THE VEHICLE IS TOWEDDOWN THE RETURN ROAD
    JOHN MOLNAR
    CREW CHIEF COMPETITION + MUSTANG

  3. Tom Bonner
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    John, Thanks for the information. Great to finally know this after all these decades!

  4. Rob Carrico
    Posted December 9, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I had a picture of this car, that came out of an old hot rod style magazine, don’t recall which one, that showed the car, in color, sitting on the dragstrip with the body up and tool box close by. The picture was in color. There was no other activity being depicted and if I remember correctly, it was like they were at a test session somewhere. I was a young boy at that time and I removed that picture from the mag and humg it on my bedroom wall. It was there for several years until my parents moved. Wish I still had it. I had already gone away to college and wasn’t there to salvage my pictures before they dissapeared. That was my favorite thought.

  5. Eddie McKesson
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I am Steve & Bill McKesson,s older brother. Your story on the Mustang and the Dodge
    funey cars is pretty accurate. During their racing days I was in a safer place flying
    attack helicopters in Vietnam . Not as exciting I am sure.

  6. rick rzepka
    Posted December 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Article is from rodder&super/stock magagine. . I still have it. Says logghe stamping on side of car refers to it as a logghe space frame. Pics were taken at Motor City Dragway . Says car ran 8.95 160 35% nitro on a cold day. Article says 90 pound fiberglass body by B&N Company in Dayotn ,OH.Says car weighed about 2000 pounds. Also says one man crew man is Rob Halloway 25 yrs old. Article written by Hal Kemper. I scanned pic and can send to you

  7. Bill McKesson
    Posted September 6, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I can fill you in on any questions you would like I’m located in Ft Myers Florida and have a lot of pic. It was nice seeing the article and being part of Drag Racing history. Wish I could get behind the wheel again I raced a copy of the McKesson Brothers 1965 A/FX Plymouth up till 2003. Thanks to all Bill McKesson PS Just because your head is shaped like a hubcap it don’t mean your a BIG WHEEL.

  8. M Lew
    Posted January 17, 2015 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    This site was neat to find. I delivered the newspaper to the McKessons on Neckel St. in Dearborn. Always saw the hauler in the driveway & was lucky enough to see Bill one afternoon working on the Plymouth in the garage, walked up the driveway & stopped in. Crazy to see the 55 gal drums of nitro there. Saw the Plymouth at Detroit Dragway for nite qualifying…World Champs ’66? and then the Charger at Milan during its first year. Had some old pics, but now long gone. Memories, good, bad, or otherwise, unwritten record of times passed. Best regards.

  9. jim schanz
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I believe i have the original Bill McKesson 65-plymouth two door post AFX car. I acquired this car from my father Don Schanz from Plainfield In. The car has had a up to date chassis installed. It is now located in Ga. I am currently working in Michigan and have been trying to track down Bill or Steve. Bill had stopped by my fathers house in Plainfield In. to look at the car. Some where around 1980-1983 Ronnie Sox came to see the car and tried to buy It. I would love to get any contact info on Bill or Steve. The cars Vin# RO51183925 I would be happy to share photos of the car. Please help me locate Bill or Steve as to the earlier post from Bill two years ago I am going to search Ft-Myeres Fl. any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Jim Schanz 706-255-5554

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